THE PAST IS PRESENT: MEXICAN HISTORIOGRAPHIC METALITERATURE
Brian Thomas Chandler
A dissertation submitted to the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures (Spanish)
Chapel Hill 2007
Approved by: Stuart A. Day
Juan Carlos González-Espitia José Manuel Polo de Bernabé Alicia Rivero
BRIAN THOMAS CHANDLER: The Past Is Present: Mexican Historiographic Metaliterature
(Under the direction of Stuart A. Day)
This project explores the influence of the past in four works of contemporary Mexican literature: the novels Madero, el otro (1989) by Ignacio Solares and Noticias del Imperio (1987) by Fernando del Paso; and the plays Entre Villa y una mujer desnuda (1993) by Sabina Berman and La Malinche (2000) by Víctor Hugo Rascón Banda. Drawing on the works of poststructuralists like Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Linda Hutcheon, essays by Mexican thinkers such as Carlos Fuentes, and theories of temporality posited by Paul Ricoeur and Jacques Le Goff, I demonstrate that, through the distortion and demythification of historical figures and events, these texts highlight the present-day influence of historical events and individuals beyond the causal
characteristics assigned them by traditional historiography. This effect is used to
TABLE OF CONTENTS
II. CARLOTA’S ETERNAL PRESENT: NOTICIAS DEL IMPERIO….…23 III. SIGNS FROM THE PRESENT: LA MALINCHE IN
CONTEMPORARY MEXICO………..44 IV. WRITING THE SPACE BETWEEN: SABINA BERMAN’S
ENTRE VILLA Y UNA MUJER DESNUDA………..………74 V. THE GAP BETWEEN HISTORIOGRAPHY AND FICTION:
IGNACIO SOLARES’ MADERO, EL OTRO……….98
In Mexico, all times are living, all pasts are present. (Fuentes, New Time 16).
One of the must-see attractions for the first-time tourist to Mexico City is the Plaza de Las Tres Culturas, The Plaza of the Three Cultures, in the Tlatelolco district. With a slight amount of maneuvering for the perfect angle, tourists can take a snapshot that includes the excavated foundations of a Mexica (Aztec) pyramid, a colonial cathedral, and non-descript high-rise office buildings belonging to the Mexican government. Tour leaders and guidebooks seem to read from a script that can be paraphrased as such: the three cultures we see before us show the evolution of Mexico City: from pre-Columbian Mesoamerican to colonial Spanish and then, taking the best aspects of these two different worlds, a new mestizo culture and nation, that of
the plaza is a small monument, erected in the shadows of the imposing Cathedral of Santiago.
Having read Poniatowska’s reconstruction of the massacre, during my first visit to the plaza I tried to imagine the horror of that night in 1968. Upon reflecting on the magnitude of what had taken place right where I was standing, I was struck by how this monument to one of the most pivotal events in recent Mexican history seemed utterly lost among the grandeur of the neighboring edifices constructed by the powerful throughout Mexican history. As on that day, I have often pondered how we, living in the present, understand our history and the past. It became obvious to me that the monument placed in memory of those who died on the second of October, 1968 would never be capable of fully capturing what happened that night nor its significance to present-day Mexicans. The monument will never tell the full story. Just as the “case” on this history was not “closed” by Poniatowska’s now canonical work or the conclusions of the 1993
investigative committee, our understanding the massacre will never be complete. As long as there is a desire to understand the massacre, there will always be interplay between the perspective of the present and the events of the past.
mujer desnuda (1993) by Sabina Berman and La Malinche (2000) by Víctor Hugo
Rascón Banda. In analyzing the primary works of this study, I intend to demonstrate that through the distortion and demythification of historical figures and events, these texts highlight the present-day influence of historical events and individuals beyond the causal characteristics assigned them by traditional historiography. This effect is used to
communicate the active manner in which the isolated “past” is engaged with the present. The result is that cause and effect are reversed so that the reader is encouraged to
participate in a dialectical process with the consequences of history in the present. While I will argue that these processes are not exclusive to any one culture, contemporary Mexico is the focus of this study. Mexican author Carlos Fuentes makes the case that contemporary Mexico is very much engaged with the past:
The greatness of Mexico is that its past is always alive. And not as a burden, except for the most primitive of modernizers. Memory saves it, filters, chooses, but it does not kill. Memory and desire both know there is no living present with a dead past and no future without both: a living present transformed into a living past. We remember here, today. We desire today, here. (New Time 216)
great number of studies and criticism of which the vast majority focus on two possible modes of interpretation:
1) The New Historical Novel contains a distorted version of the past and history as a thinly veiled allegory to critique and speak to the present social and political realities of Latin America.
2) The New Historical Novel offers an alternative version of historical events, highlighting the problematic nature of traditional historiography as employed within existing power systems.
I agree that criticism based on these two modes of interpretation is both useful and accurate. However, I also believe that many New Historical Novels offer the reader a third layer of meaning in addition to those outlined above. Furthermore, I contend that this category should be extended beyond the genre of the novel in order to include a wider variety of texts that share common characteristics. For this purpose, I propose the term “Historiographic Metaliterature,” defined as works of literature in which, through self-reflexivity of the epistemological and ontological aspects of discourse, historical personages and events are portrayed in a way that traditional historical knowledge is made subordinate to a creation a sui generis that communicates marginalized counter-hegemonic discourses. This definition is built upon the ideas of Fernando Aínsa, Juan José Barrientos, Linda Hutcheon, Santiago Juan-Navarro, Seymour Menton, and Alicia Rivero.
Novel does not truly begin until 1979, the year that Carpentier published El arpa y la sombra (14-15). Menton begins his book by contesting the observations of critics like Gutiérrez Mouat, who states that the Post-Boom novel “representa la ‘desliteraturización’ de la novela” ‘represents the ‘de-literaturization’ of the novel’ (8): 1
While some critics have prematurely hailed the demise of the ‘Boom’ novelists and have touted the emergence of a new generation of ‘post-Boom’ novelists, the empirical evidence suggests that since 1979 the dominant trend in Latin American fiction has been the proliferation of New Historical Novels, the most canonical of which share with the Boom novels of the 1960s moralistic scope, exuberant eroticism, and complex, neo-baroque (albeit less hermetic) structural and linguistic
Although it can be said that Menton is overstating the extent of the proliferation of the New Historical Novel in Latin American literary production, his work, and that of other scholars such as Fernando Aínsa and Juan José Barrientos, has established the importance of this type of novel within Latin American literary production of the last thirty years.
After identifying the existence of the New Historical Novel, Menton observes six characteristics that differentiate the New Historical Novel from the traditional historic novel:
1. The subordination, in varying degrees, of the mimetic recreation of a given historical period to the illustration of three philosophical ideas, popularized by Borges and applicable to all periods of the past, present, and future [. . .] (a) the impossibility of ascertaining the true nature of reality or history; (b) the cyclical nature of history; and (c) the unpredictability of history [. . .]
2. The conscious distortion of history through omissions, exaggerations, and anachronisms.
3. The utilization of famous historical characters as protagonists, which differs markedly from the Walter Scott formula—endorsed by Lukács—of fictitious protagonists [. . .]
4. Metafiction, or the narrator’s referring to the creative process of his own text [. . .]
6. The Bakhtinian concepts of the dialogic, the carnivalesque, parody, and heteroglossia. (22-24; emphasis in original)
Menton’s definition of the New Historical Novel is based solely on observed
characteristics that attempt to create an articulated categorical description of works that share certain characteristics. However, as Menton himself notes, “all six [characteristics] are not necessarily found in each novel” (22). In a similar manner, Fernando Aínsa offers ten characteristics of the New Historical Novel in “La nueva novela histórica
latinoamericana,” published in 1991 in Plural. His description of this new category, like Menton’s, is based on observed characteristics found in many contemporary novels.
In contrast with Menton and Aínsa who see the New Historical Novel as a definitive break with the tradition of the historical novel, Juan José Barrientos suggests that the New Historical Novel is a natural evolution of the historical novel that simply exhibits “tendencias que están renovando el género” ‘tendencies that are renovating the genre’ (13). These tendencies are a shifting of perspective from the third person to the first person perspective of the historical characters, an attempt to emphasize the interior feelings and thoughts of historical characters, a more intimate portrayal of historical personages, a decidedly subjective reconstruction of the past and irreverence toward past events and historical figures (Barrientos 13-20). The two primary novels that will be studied in this work can be classified as New Historical Novels according to the
definitions offered by Menton, Aínsa, and Barrientos. I believe that Barrientos’ approach is useful in that it does not include or exclude novels simply based on observed
It must be noted that Latin America’s New Historical Novel is not an isolated phenomenon in Western literary production. In the field of Anglo-American criticism, Linda Hutcheon has noted, as a literary aesthetic manifestation of postmodernism, the emergence of “historiographic metafiction,” which she defines as “well-known and popular novels which are both intensely self-reflexive and yet paradoxically also lay claim to historical events and personages [. . .]” (Poetics 5).2 While her definition of historiographic metafiction is too broad to be equated with the New Historical Novel, Hutcheon’s insights into postmodern narrative in Western literature, including that of Latin America, will be fundamental in this project.
Building on the scholarship of Hutcheon, Santiago Juan-Navarro offers in his book, Archival Reflections, an Inter-American comparative study of historiographic metafiction, highlighting the commonalities between Anglo-American and Latin American postmodern fiction. Juan-Navarro begins his study by identifying dominant tendencies in the theory and practice of historiographic metafiction:
The discovery of significance in the marginal, the use of political philosophies that accommodate heterodoxy and dissent, the concept of literature as a communal experience open to the reader’s participation, and the parodic rewriting of historical and literary traditions in order to
demystify the dominant forms of representation. (12)
My definition is closely aligned to those of Hutcheon and Juan-Navarro with the
exception that I have limited the category to those works in which historical personages
2The question of postmodernism in Latin America is essential to this project. I concur with Beverly and
and events are portrayed in a way that traditional historical knowledge is made subordinate to a creation a sui generis.
In a similar manner, Amalia Pulgarín analyzes novels that fall under the classification of the New Historical Novel as postulated by Menton. Pulgarín further highlights the connections between Anglo-American and European literature and literary theory and the New Historical novels by stating that
[l]o característico de estas novelas es su autoconciencia de las teorías del Nuevo Historicismo y el reconocimiento de la imposibilidad de
representar la realidad. Los autores son conscientes de que tanto la narración histórica como la narración ficticia son construcciones o productos humanos y esta problemática la transportan a sus textos. Esta premisa, base del pensamiento histórico teórico moderno, constituye el fundamento de la elaboración y revisión de las formas y de los contenidos del pasado de los que se ocupa la novela. (14)
[w]hat is characteristic of these novels is their self-awareness of the theories of New Historicism and the recognition of the impossibility of representing reality. The authors are conscious that historic narrations, as well as fictive narration, are constructions or human products and this problematic is brought to their texts. This premise, the basis of modern theoretical historical thought, constitutes the foundation of the elaboration and revision of the forms and content of the past with which the novel is occupied.
Building upon this body of scholarship, Alicia Rivero has suggested that the category of historiographic metatfiction, as defined by Hutcheon and Juan-Navarro, be extended to historiographic metaliterature, so as to include works with similar
In her study on memory and Latin American theater, Josette Féral observes that many contemporary works offer disparate—often conflicting—versions of history, memory, and representation:
Estas memorias múltiples, presentes en toda representación, se confrontan entre sí y establecen relaciones dialécticas, no solamente en el transcurso del trabajo preliminar que da origen al espectáculo, sino también durante la representación misma y la recepción del público. La memoria del teatro se sitúa entre lo subjetivo y lo colectivo, en el cruce de una fenomenología de la conciencia subjetiva y de una sociología de una memoria colectiva. (15)
These multiple memories, present in all representation, confront each other and establish dialectic relationships, not only in the course of the preliminary work that gives birth to the spectacle, but also during the representation [or performance] itself and the audience’s reception of it. The memory of theater is situated between the subjective and the
collective, in the intersection of a phenomenology of the subjective conscious and that of a sociology of a collective memory.
Féral’s definition of the privileged position in which theater operates as a
meaning-making art underscores the dialectic processes involved between subjective and collective memory. Although the process is actively dialectic, in much of contemporary theater synthesis is elusive and provisional in nature.
the effectiveness of these works lies in the dialogues between audience, text, and heterogeneous memories. Malkin states that “[t]heater is the art of repetition, of
memorized and reiterated texts and gestures. A temporal art, an art-through-time, theater also depends on the memorized attentiveness of its audience with whose memory (and memories) it is always in dialogue” (3). In order to further this dialogue, in many of these works “[n]arrative devices (flashbacks, realistic frames) are abandoned, as are appeals to a teleological understanding of the past” (Malkin 21). The result is that emphasis is shifted from finding some finality or resolution to the past to exploring how the past is filtered through a memory that is both subjective and incomplete.
In these works of historiographic metatheater, although the past is performed onstage, it is done in such a way that traditional notions of temporality are challenged. It must be stated that temporality has always been an essential element in theater. When the past is framed in a logical manner, the mimetic—albeit imperfect—quality of the work is maintained. Conversely, Freddie Rokem affirms that
history can be performed, in the world and on the theatrical stage too, when different structures of time (besides the daily reappearance of the sun), can be distinguished, making it possible to ask not only if the things that appear again are natural phenomena but if they are triggered by some kind of agency, creating a pattern, not just mechanical repetition. (xi) However, when works of historiographic metatheater disrupt the illusion of naturalness of how the past is represented, attention is called not only to the problematic assumptions about the events and personages themselves but also to the very epistemological and ontological foundations on which historical knowledge is founded.
of the New Historical Novel is, among other factors, a literary phenomenon partly born of the postmodern tendency to question history’s claim to be a science privileged above other forms of discourse (31). Roland Barthes, in his essay “Discourse of History” (1963), argues that “the historian is not so much a collector of facts as a collector and relater of signifiers; that is to say, he organizes them with the purpose of establishing positive meaning and filling the vacuum of the pure series” (138).
Building on the work of Barthes, Derrida, and others that posit the instability of the sign, Dominick LaCapra and Hayden White question historiography’s truth claims given its status as a human discourse. In the post-structuralist and postmodern revaluing of historiography as a discourse, one can make the argument that fiction is just as valid as history to serve as a source of knowledge of the past. As Hutcheon states,
Historiographic Metafiction refutes the natural or common-sense methods of distinguishing between historical fact and fiction. It refutes the fact that only history has a truth claim, both by questioning the ground of that claim in historiography and by asserting that both history and fiction are
discourses, human constructs, signifying systems, and both derive their major claim of truth from that identity. (93)
However, it must be clarified that in works of historiographic metafiction, “[h]istory is not made obsolete: it is, however, being rethought—as a human construct. And in arguing that history does not exist except as text, it does not stupidly and
‘gleefully’ deny that the past existed, but only that its accessibility to us now is entirely conditioned by textuality” (Hutcheon Poetics 16; emphasis in original). Furthermore, Hutcheon defends postmodern narrative against the critiques that it is devoid of agency and meaning, by stressing how knowledge can be obtained through intertextuality:
ontological reduction is not the point of postmodernism: past events existed empirically, but in epistemological terms we can only know them today through texts. Past events are given meaning, not existence, by their representations in history. (Poetics 82-83; emphasis in original)
Hutcheon’s attention to the necessary distinction between the meaning and the existence of past events is central to this project.
It can be concluded that works of Historiographic Metaliterature do not seek to question the existence or the reality of the past and historical events. As such, one must question why the New Historical Novel engages the past in a way not realized by its predecessors in the traditional historical novel. Carlos Fuentes observes that the
phenomenon of the New Historical Novel in Latin America is “una afirmación del poder de la ficción para decir algo que pocos historiadores son capaces de formular: el pasado no ha concluido; el pasado tiene que ser re-inventado a cada momento para que no se nos fosilice entre las manos” ‘an affirmation of the power of fiction to say something few historians are capable of formulating: the past has not concluded; it has to be reinvented in every moment so that it does not fossilize in our very hands’ (Valiente 24).
By saying that the past has not concluded, Fuentes seems to be addressing how past events operate in the present. This relationship between past and present is one that must be mediated through discourse. Consequently,
[t]odo discurso histórico (historiográfico o ficcional) es, ante todo, memoria del pasado en el presente. A través del proceso de interacción y diálogo entre el presente y el pasado, en el “va y ven” de un tiempo al otro que toda narración histórica propicia, se establece una relación coherente entre ambos, un sentido histórico de pertenencia orgánica a un proceso colectivo, local, nacional o regional” (Aínsa Reescribir 67).
[a]ll historical discourse (historiographic or fictional) is, above all,
relationship is established between the two, a historical sense of organic belonging to a regional, national, local, or collective process.
However, it must be stated that relationships constructed between past and present are not politically neutral. In the case of Mexico, representations and interpretations of the past have often been indistinguishable from the dominant political discourse given that
en nuestro país la reconstrucción del pasado se ha vinculado de tal modo a las grandes convulsiones políticas e ideológicas que atraviesan su historia, que cada proyecto político que se ha presentado a la nación ha tenido como correlato una nueva interpretación y reconstrucción del pasado. (Florescano Nuevo pasado 12).
in our country the reconstruction of the past has been connected in such a way to the great political and ideological upheavals that it has gone
through that each political project that has been presented to the nation has correlatively had a new interpretation and reconstruction of the past. Among authors, readers, playwrights, and audiences there is a growing awareness of the connections between politics and any understanding of the past. As a result,
Historiographic Metaliterature explores and examines not only how history is known, but also the significance of the past in the present.
world” has been placed in an inferior position to the “prose of history” (24-5). Showing that this phenomenon is relatively recent, commencing in enlightenment Europe, Guha underscores how this conception of history is not a universal category (25-26).
The role of literature in recuperating these lost historical discourses is central to Guha’s thesis. He is careful to point out that in the Western tradition of both story-telling and historiography, the verisimilitude of a text is based on temporal and spatial
immediacy (63). In maintaining the appearance of immediacy of experience in
historiography, the state is able to shield itself from the natural degradation of time (Guha 71). “It is thus that state and historiography came to form the strategic alliance known as World-history in order to overcome the negativity of time. The control of the past is essential to that strategy. Experience lends itself as a useful mechanism of control in this respect” (71). The institutionalization of such subjective knowledge in historiography is a dangerous exercise to which the New Historical Novel offers counter-knowledges that have been excluded by traditional historiography. In a similar manner, Fuentes suggests that artistic resistance to hegemonic historical knowledge opens up a space that offers more veracity through heterogeneity.
Los hombres y las mujeres oponemos demasiadas visiones, estéticas, eróticas, irracionales, a cualquier intento de armonización integral con el Estado, la corporación, la iglesia, el partido o aun, con la novia legítima de todas estas instituciones: <<La Historia>>. Creadores de otra historia, los artistas, sin embargo, están inmersos en esta historia. Entre ambas se crea la verdadera Historia, sin entrecomillado, que es siempre resultado de una experiencia y no de una ideología previa a los hechos. (Valiente 15; emphasis in original)
true History is created—without any quotation marks—that is always the result of an experience and not of a ideology that precedes events.
Although this hybrid “true History” can reduce many of the pitfalls inherent in relying solely on conventional historiography for our understanding of the past, it cannot be said that the writing, reading, and reception of Historiographic Metaliterature is an apolitical exercise.
Hutcheon’s claim that the postmodern is unavoidably political seems to be
reinforced by the resistance to accepted forms of knowledge that can be found in the New Historical Novel (Politics 1). In exposing how the past operates in the present, these novels reveal what Michel Foucault would term “subjugated knowledges,” which “have been buried or masked in functional coherences and formal systematizations” (7). These subjugated knowledges are “blocks of historical knowledge that were present in the functional and systematic ensembles, but which were masked [. . .]” (7). By pointing out the processes of the subjugation of knowledges by the practice of traditional academic discourse, Foucault takes the bold step in valuing these genealogies as “antisciences”: “It is not that they demand the lyrical right to be ignorant, and not that they reject
knowledge, or invoke or celebrate some immediate experience that has yet to be captured by knowledge. That is not what they are about. They are about the insurrection of knowledges” (9). This insurrection “enable[s] them to oppose and struggle against the coercion of a unitary, formal, and scientific theoretical discourse” (10). The restoration and revelation of subjugated knowledges can be found in the space occupied by
experienced in the present, revealing possible paths to bring such subjugated histories to light.
These processes can be clearly observed in del Paso’s Noticias del imperio, the most well-known of the four primary texts to be studied in this work. The polyphonic narration of this novel is created through the stream-of-consciousness narration of the alienated Empress Carlota interspersed with dialogic voices from Europe and the land that Napoleon III tried to rule through his puppet, Emperor Maximilian of Hapsburg. Throughout the work, the act of historical writing is brought to the forefront through numerous references to how history is written both within historiography and fictive literature.
The published research on this novel can be aligned into two groups. The first group, which includes Peter Thomas and Ruíz Rivas, seeks to suitably classify this novel within established literary modes. The second group, which includes Clark and
González, Ibsen, Fell, and Larrave, all illustrate, from different perspectives, how Noticias del imperio problematizes the conventional categories of fiction and history. Elizabeth Corral Peña, in the most thorough study of the novel to date, offers and in-depth analysis of how, in Noticias del imperio, history and literature mix so as to question the truth-claims of either mode of discourse. Of greater importance to my project,
Alexander Honold offers a connection between the theories of Walter Benjamin and del Paso’s text, showing that they both support a historiography that is not based on temporal ruptures, but rather “un conjunto de capas históricas diversas, [una] coexistencia
‘an ensemble of diverse historic layers, [an] anachronic coexistence of distinct times within the same mathematical and unidimensional time’ (51-52).
In my analysis I will show how the long span of Carlota’s life (1840-1927) is used to disrupt the isolated way in which the events of France’s intervention in Mexico are usually framed. As Maximilian and Carlota become “Mexicanized,” Mexico, in a reciprocal manner, is once again engaged and changed by an imperial European power. The French conquest of Mexico will be shown to be not an isolated historical event, but rather a past event that continues to operate in contemporary Mexico. In particular, through the application of Paul Ricoeur’s phenomenology of time, I will show how the temporal aspect of the narration of this novel undermines the distance between historical events before, during, and after the life of Carlota. Interestingly, Noticias del Imperio brings to the forefront the connections between discourse and memory. Temporality as understood by the human agent is articulated in exaggerated form through Carlota’s expansive and schizophrenic monologue. In contrast to Carlota’s first person stream-of-conscious narration, the authorial voice reveals the process of writing history and fiction employed in works of historiographic metafiction. Adding to this polyphony are the voices of Mexicans and Europeans involved in some capacity with the French invasion of Mexico. Although all these voices speak within a conventional understanding of
temporality, Carlota confuses the past, present, and future creating a world defined by illogical simultaneity. Consequently, the polyphonic narration of Noticias del imperio sheds light on to the way that history is understood from the perspective of the present.
Bernal Díaz del Castillo, Cuauhtémoc, and others, who are transported through time to present-day Mexico. In particular it is La Malinche, the translator to Cortés, who
interacts with the Conquistadores, the Zapatistas, and legislators in Mexico’s present-day congress. Whether as a representative in congress, an interpreter between the
government and the Zapatistas, a news reporter, or as a tormented mother whose
troubling relationship with her children forces her to visit a psychoanalyst, La Malinche’s identity is constantly changing. The intertextual nature of the play is made clear given that many of the scenes are adapted from original sources that include náhuatl poetry, Díaz del Castillo’s chronicles, popular songs, Paz’s El laberinto de la soledad, among other texts.
Stuart A. Day notes that “[i]ronically, while Rascón Banda gives La Malinche a voice with which to vindicate herself, malinchismo is the defining concept of the play” (123). Furthermore, Day underscores how the play critiques the practice of malinchismo within the sociopolitical context of contemporary Mexican politics: “La Malinche stages an important part of relations between Mexico and the United States. Many Mexicans feel as though their country is continually being invaded (culturally and economically) and that treaties like NAFTA will always favor their neighbor to the North” (123).
Building upon Day’s study, in this project I show how the historical and
Mexico. These historical figures, and in particular that of La Malinche, cannot be understood as one pole within a system of binary opposites. Rather, they must be understood as complex identities that function in myriad ways in contemporary Mexico.
Another play that combines past and present, in Berman’s Entre Villa y una mujer desnuda (1992) the relationships among four contemporary Mexicans are recreated with the twist that they share the space of the stage with the mythical Pancho Villa, whose comments and very life depend on the words and actions of the other four characters living in the present. Gina and Adrián, both middle-aged, have a relationship defined by a lack of commitment. However, when Gina pushes for a more solid commitment from her lover, a history professor and machista left-leaning intellectual, the relationship begins to collapse, but not before Gina helps to complete Adrián’s manuscript on the history of Villa and the Mexican Revolution. As Gina empowers herself through discourse, Villa is riddled with bullets, highlighting the relationship between discourse, history, and power.
cultural, economic, and political history of Spanish America in general and of Mexico in particular: revolutionary desire and anxiety provoked by modernity’ (525). In his
analysis of the play, Day contextualizes the work within the economic and political climate of neoliberalism in which it was created and received. “In Entre Villa y una mujer desnuda [. . .], Sabina Berman responds to this relatively new, ambiguous political climate in Mexico and the need for the left to move forward by forming new political alliances” (37).
In my analysis of this play, I build upon the research stated above in order to show how conventional historiography has helped to isolate historic figures and
revolutionary rhetoric in a mythological past. In spite of this temporal distancing, it can be observed that the past is very much engaged directly with the present. Furthermore, I show that the present-day influence of Pancho Villa and the Mexican Revolution must be recognized in order to combat hegemonic discourses that have real consequences in contemporary Mexico. The Villa that serves as a menace to Adrián is a citational myth, built of multiple texts and proliferated by a misogynic discourse that ties machismo with nation. It will be shown that there is indeed agency to contest the dominant sociopolitical discourses in Mexico. The first step in this counter-hegemonic politics is to establish the historicality of the present and the ways that we continually invest power in historical events and personages.
While simultaneity of past and present permits the plot of Entre Villa y una mujer desnuda to unfold, in Solares’ Madero, el otro time is almost stopped as Francisco
transcend spatiotemporal restraints. The rigorous reconstruction of Madero, supported with a bibliography at the end of the novel, attempts to capture “el halo que dejan los hechos, más que los hechos mismos” ‘the aura that the events leave behind, rather than the events themselves’ (250). The narrator(s), who may or may not be part of Madero’s conscious, interchangeably use(s) the pronouns “tú,” “yo,” “nosotros” [you, I, we], to constantly remind his interlocutor of the interconnectivity between Madero (the mystic), el otro Madero (the politician who must make pragmatic decisions), the narrator himself, the reader, and the Mexican people.
In his article on Madero, el otro, Weatherford suggests that this novel is “a case study in reader-response theory” and the role of texts in identity formation (88). In their articles, Martínez and Camps both show how this novel reflects a postmodern
understanding of history as discourse and suggest that the problematic portrayal of Madero highlights the weaknesses of conventional historiography. In my analysis of this novel, it will be shown that Madero, el otro captures the way Madero’s life and the Mexican Revolution have active influence over contemporary Mexico. Of particular interest is the way in which the protagonist Madero is forced to look into a mirror in order to contemplate his life. In this mirror, the past, present, and future mix, showing the disastrous results of Madero’s well-intentioned policies and beliefs. In this study, it will be shown that the space of the mirror in the novel is a representation of the way in which temporal distance is made subordinate to the present-day experience of Madero’s every decision.
information in order to form a coherent narration. With an awareness of the discursive nature of both historiography and fiction, the authorial voice suggests that truth lies in the space between what has been established as fact and what can be imagined as fiction. As a result, Madero’s identity—like those of all historical figures—is in a constant state of flux, changing the present’s active perception of the past. Consequently, the influence of past events and personages is also instable and evolving, maintaining the dynamic ties between past and present.
In the conclusions section of this work, I discuss how these primary works share many common characteristics while approaching the past and the present from very different perspectives. While each novel or play has its individual value, another layer of meaning can be extracted when these works are studied as part of a growing movement to reconsider the relationships between past, present, and future. Moreover, it will be
shown that while Mexico is the focus of this project, the presence of the past is a concept that can be extended to other social and national contexts.
Carlota’s Eternal Present: Noticias del Imperio
All history is contemporary insofar as the past is grasped in the present, and thus responds to the latter’s interests. This is not only inevitable but legitimate. Since history is lived time (dureé), the past is both past and present. (Le Goff 130)
El tiempo es el depositario del sentido. (Paz Signo 11)
Time is the repository of meaning.
Fernando del Paso’s Noticias del Imperio (News from the Empire) (1987) is the best known and most analyzed primary work in this study. Through a striking example of neobaroque complexity and playfulness, Noticias del Imperio offers the reader a new glimpse into the events before, during, and after the French-led Second Mexican Empire under the Hapsburg Archduke Maximilian of Austria and his wife Carlota. In this novel, the act of historical writing is brought to the forefront through numerous references to the way history is written both within historiography and fictive literature. The diegesis of the novel unfolds through the stream-of-consciousness narration of the alienated and mentally ill Empress Carlota, interspersed with a third-person retelling of various events involving the French intervention and an authorial voice that interrupts, ponders, and critiques the grand undertaking that is this novel.
by the way in which Carlota’s narration unfolds. While the long span of Carlota’s life (1840-1927) serves as the thematic bond that holds disparate events and periods together, it also highlights and disrupts the isolated way that the events of France’s military and political involvement in Mexico are usually framed. As Maximilian and Carlota become “Mexicanized,” Mexico, in a reciprocal manner, is once again engaged and changed by an imperial European power. In my analysis of this novel, the French intervention in Mexico (1861-67) will be shown to be not an isolated historical event, but rather a past event that continues to operate in contemporary Mexico. In particular, I will show how the temporal aspect of the narration of this novel undermines the distance between historical events before, during, and after the life of Carlota. Consequently, this novel reflects the way history is experienced in present-day Mexico.
Described by the author as an “especie de carrera entre la imaginación y la
documentación” ‘a kind of race between imagination and documentation’ (Barrientos ‘La locura’ 31), del Paso’s novel has been hailed by critics and readers alike for its
While Noticias del Imperio provides a seemingly endless source of material to be examined and analyzed more in depth, this study will focus on the concept of temporality in the novel. In his article on Noticias del Imperio, Alexander Honold notes that del Paso’s text supports a historiography that is not based on temporal ruptures, but rather “un conjunto de capas históricas diversas, a la coexistencia anacrónica de tiempos
distintos dentro del mismo tiempo matemático y unidimensional” ‘an ensemble of diverse historical layers within a single mathematical and one-dimensional time’ (51-52).
Honold’s argument highlights the revealing nature of temporality rendered in Noticias del Imperio. In particular, the first-person narration of Carlota, speaking in 1927 from the Bouchout Castle in Belgium, links past with present, Europe with Mexico, and history with fiction.
The organization of the novel offers a glimpse into the constant dialogue between past and present. The twenty-three chapters switch between a polyphonic retelling of the events surrounding the French intervention in the even-numbered chapters and Carlota’s monologue in the odd-numbered chapters. The even-numbered chapters contain myriad voices expressed through chronologically ordered sections with names such as “Crónicas de la corte” ‘Chronicles of the Court,’ “De la correspondencia—incompleta—entre dos hermanos” ‘On the correspondence—incomplete—between two brothers,’ and
“Camarón, Camarón” ‘Little Shrimp, Little Shrimp.’ This heteroglossia is contrasted with the ranting monologues of the mentally ill eighty-six year old Carlota. Elizabeth Corral Peña describes this monologue as a soliloquy, in which
de las acciones de los hombres, precariedad del sujeto, la desgracia y la deshonra, la libertad rota, la impotencia. (“La verdad” 117-18)
an enormous amount of pieces of historical information—about her life, about those she knew, about the history of Europe—are mixed with existential preoccupations such as the meaning of life, the absurdity of the world and the actions of men, the precariousness of the subject, disgrace and dishonor, broken liberty, and impotence.
In the wide-ranging thoughts of Carlota, the reader finds a woman who is alone, wanting to return to Mexico and reclaim the throne for both her and her husband, Maximilian. In addition to an interesting rewriting of the once empress of Mexico, the reader is treated to a fascinating look at memory, narration, and temporality and all the ways in which these three concepts function.
When speaking of temporality in Noticias del Imperio, I am not referring to objective cosmic time as understood by an astrophysicist, but rather what Paul Ricoeur calls “human time,” that is, time as experienced by the human being, “which always requires a reference point of a present [. . .]” (Volume 1 224). Ricoeur’s understanding of human time is based on a phenomenology of time-consciousness, the way in which the conscious perceives its embodiment, place, and time within the world (Dauenhauer). For Carlota in Noticias del imperio, the reference point of the present in the novel is the year 1927. However, there are at least two narrative presents in Noticias del Imperio: that of Carlota and that of the authorial voice, which is manifested through ample usage of metafictitious comments about the text with which the reader is engaged.
agent’s understanding of its spatiotemporal existence in the world, given that “time becomes human to the extent that it is articulated through a narrative mode, and narrative attains its full meaning when it becomes a condition of temporal existence” (Vol. 1 52). The processes involved in articulating human time are made more acutely discernable by Carlota’s monologue—and also, some would argue, by her insanity. Nonetheless, the authorial voice present in Noticias del Imperio also lays bare the process of narration and how it affects the ways temporality is perceived by the embodied human consciousness.
Carlota seems to understand this correlation, fusing together her embodied memories to a continual present. Comparing herself to the mythological figure of the Phoenix, continuing a cycle of destruction and rebirth, Carlota says, “yo soy una memoria viva y temblorosa, una memoria incendiada, vuelta llamas, que se alimenta y se abrasa a sí misma y se consume y vuelve a nacer y abrir las alas” ‘I am a tremulous and living memory, a memory set aflame, burning, that fuels and burns and consumes itself and is born again and opens its wings anew’ (657). Her memories are created, recreated, morphed, distorted, and destroyed in a process to continually understand her place in the world and history.
The novel opens with the first-person narration of Carlota explaining who she is, enumerating all of the titles and names by which believes she is known. With the words “Yo soy,” Carlota sets forth the neobaroque diegesis of the novel with what Peter
Carlota de Bélgica, Empeatriz de México y de América” ‘I am Marie Charlotte of Belgium, Empress of Mexico and America’ (13), Carlota’s monologue begins by faithfully reproducing what has been documented as Carlota’s belief that she would return to Mexico and continue her reign as empress (Haslip 505). Juxtaposed with reproductions that are faithful to established historiographic knowledge are Carlota’s more historically polemical statements, such as, “Yo soy [. . .] Regente de Anáhuac, Reina de Nicaragua, Baronesa del Mato Grosso, Princesa de Chichén Itzá” ‘I am [. . .] Regent of Anáhuac [the Valley of Mexico], Queen of Nicaragua, Baroness of Mato Grosso [Brazil], Princess of Chichén Itzá’ (13). She even goes as far as to call her husband “Emperador de México y Rey del Mundo” ‘Emperor of Mexico and King of the World’ (13). These megalomaniacal statements are given amidst lists of European royal lineages and the historical events surrounding ascensions and coronations.
This opening monologue establishes both Carlota’s worldview and her temporal placement according to her perception. In her mind, she is living an eternal present in which past events, both real and imagined, are made present in contrast to her frail embodied reality in a Belgian castle years after her husband’s death. At times she speaks with Maximilian, her “pobre Max” ‘poor Max,’ recognizing that he is indeed dead. In other moments she speaks to him as though he were alive. Admitting her difficulty grasping what is real and unreal, Carlota states:
me di cuenta que no sabría en cuál tiempo verbal contarlos, porque estoy tan confundida que a veces no sé si fui de verdad María Carlota de Bélgica, si soy aún Empeatriz de México, si seré algún día Empeatriz de América. Y porque estoy tan confundida que a veces no sé dónde termina la verdad de mis sueños y comienzan las mentiras de mi vida. (23)
Belgium, if I am still the Empress of Mexico, if I will be one day Empress of America. And because I am so confused at times I do not know where the truth of my dreams ends and where the lies of my life begin.
Carlota’s apparent self-awareness of her own confusion and struggle against forgetting the past becomes a leitmotiv throughout her monologue. Similarly, she is very much aware that her husband, Maximilian, is dead, yet she repeatedly calls him to action in the present. With rancor she questions her husband, “Dime, Maximiliano, ¿qué has hecho tú de tu vida desde que moriste en Querétaro como un héroe y como un perro, pidiéndole [sic] a tus asesinos que apuntaran al pecho y gritando Viva México [. . .]” ‘Tell me, Maximilian, what have you done with your life since you died in Querétaro like a hero and a dog, shouting Viva Mexico while asking your murderers to aim for your chest’ (21). While Carlota’s understanding of the present and the past offers contradictory messages, this is her way of understanding the moment in which she lives.
Playing with verb tenses, the inflection that allows one to express temporality through action, Carlota asks Maximiliano:
¿Cómo explicarle a nuestro maestro de español, que además se murió hace tantos años, cómo decirle que de nada sirve que me hable de
conjugaciones y tiempos verbales porque yo no fui la Emperatriz de México, yo no seré Carlota Amelia, yo no sería la Reina de América sino que soy todo todo el tiempo, un presente eterno sin fin y sin principio, la memoria viva de un siglo congelado en un instante? (362)
How do I explain to our Spanish teacher, who died so many years ago, how do I tell him that it does me no good to speak of conjugations and verbal tenses because I was not the Empress of Mexico, I will not be Carlota Amelia, I would not be the Queen of America but rather I am all all the time, an eternal present without end and without beginning, the living memory of a century frozen in an instant?
novel, Carlota connects the 19th and 20th centuries. Furthermore, in her worldview the past, present, and future lose their temporal underpinnings. Given the freedom to roam the past and present, to bring alive those long dead, Carlota challenges what the reader would accept as historical fact.
According to Corral-Peña, Carlota can “temporalmente disminuir, e incluso anular, el valor y el peso de la historia, de cualquier juicio monológico oficial [. . .] para después construir un universo propio donde las cosas son como ella quiere o como
hubieran debido ser” ‘temporarily reduce, and even annul, the value and weight of history or of any official monologic judgement [. . .] to later construct a personal universe where things are as she wants or as how they should have been’ (Noticias 197). This
subordination of objective time to a totally personal narrated time serves to make more subjective the meaning of the events surrounding her life and, in particular, the ephemeral Second Empire of Mexico.
Noting the historical liberties taken in works of postmodern historical novels, Elisabeth Wessling states:
Whereas traditional historical fiction tends to obey the rule that the novelist may only speak when the historian falls silent, filling in gaps in the historical records without contradicting known facts, postmodernist novelists blatantly negate established historical facts through conspicuous anachronisms, divergences from official chronology and the like. (203) These novels—as can be observed in Noticias del imperio—flaunt their counterfactual claims while questioning the ability of conventional historiography and works of literature to accurately reconstruct the past. Wessling draws attention to this distinction between traditional and postmodern historical fiction.
histories drastically reshape this basic framework itself. Changes are wrought upon canonized history by effecting shifts among the various factors that played a role in a given historical situation or series of events. (205)
In Noticias del imperio the narrative process is flaunted by the interruption of the authorial voice that reminds the reader that what she is reading is a discursive artifact. Patricia Waugh observes that “[c]ontemporary metafiction draws attention to the fact that life, as well as novels, is constructed through frames, and that it is finally impossible to know where one frame ends and another begins” (29). The destablilization of the frames that traditionally have separated historical veracity from artistic creation is ever-present in Noticias del imperio.
Highlighting the unstable foundations of canonical historical knowledge,
Carlota’s reality in the novel is one in which all frames are blurred. In this world, fact is confused with fiction, the past mixes with the present, and reality is the product of the protagonist’s imagination. Seemingly, the only connection Carlota has with the world outside of her disordered mind is the frequent visits from a messenger who brings with him news from the Empire. In different moments the messenger arrives dressed as Pope Pius IX, the Archangel Michael, Benito Juárez, princes, and military leaders from the past telling her stories and updating her on the goings on in Europe and Mexico. It is through this messenger that she learns of modern inventions such as the telephone, the automobile, the motion picture, and the airplane. While this messenger seems to inform her of the flowing of time, it is still time as perceived by Carlota.3 As Carlos Fuentes
3The political and technological changes during the long span of Carlota’s life would have surely had a
reminds us, “[t]he pure version of time is a time without humanity. Diversion, reversion, inversion, subversion of time are the human responses, the stain—la mancha—of time” (New Time 15). Highlighting this understanding of temporality, Carlota declares to her imaginary interlocutor, Maximilian, that “cuando llega el último día, el día de tu muerte, todos los días de tu vida se vuelven uno solo. Y resulta entonces que tú, que todos, hemos estado muertos desde siempre” ‘when the last day arrives, the day of your death, all the days of your life become one. And then it turns out that you, like everyone, has been dead forever’ (19). This conceptualization of collapsing time once again
underscores that Carlota’s—and indeed all agents’—temporality is not a metaphysical objective time, but rather time as perceived by an actor operating in a world that it tries to understand and express.
In another example of how Carlota perceives and orders the outside world in ways that conflict with the changes around her, she orders that all the clocks in the castle be stopped forever at seven in the morning, because as Carlota explains to Maximiliano, it is “la hora en que esos bandidos acabaron con tu vida en el Cerro de las Campanas” ‘the hour in which those bandits ended your life on the Hill of the Bells’ (236). The interplay between Carlota’s efforts to stop time and her struggles to come to terms with the reality that surrounds her forces Carlota to reinterpret constantly the past and present.
Sequestered in her castle, Carlota’s link to the contemporary world is kept alive by the visits of the costumed messenger bringing news from the Empire. Interestingly,
the leitmotiv of the masquerade is brought to the forefront earlier in the work, as
Europe’s power players plot their future intervention in Mesoamerica behind masks and costumes representing various personages from different stages of history. A third-person narrator describing the masquerade ball states, “Estaba allí todo el mundo. Estaban, también, todos los siglos” ‘All the people were there. All the centuries were there as well’ (48). The play on the idea of all centuries present, in the costumes and as history being made manifest, shows how the idea of Maximilian and Carlota’s reign carried with it centuries of conquests, power struggles, philosophical and historical justifications, and political opportunism; in short, the history of all the centuries before. Interestingly, the episode of the masquerade ball metonymically subverts identities and times as can be seen throughout the novel.
As one more character in this seductive game of identities, the messenger and his interactions with Carlota connect fantasy with reality. Furthermore, Carlota morphs the messenger and what exactly it is that he brings her. Obsessed with the idea of
Maximilian’s dismembered body, Carlota speaks repeatedly of recomposing her dead husband throughout the novel. In one instance, the messenger brings Carlota some parts of Maximilian’s body. Describing the event to her deceased interlocutor, Carlota
going to reinvent history’ (76). Carlota’s reinvention of her husband and of history mirrors the processes at work throughout the novel, uniting disparate themes and pasts in order to present a unified—if schizophrenic—present.
Kristen Ibsen argues that Carlota “procura reinventar a su marido muerto hilando pedazos de su historia, el propósito discursivo de Carlota, y de la novela, es recrear una totalidad a través de una síntesis imaginativa de las partes” ‘strives to reinvent her dead husband threading pieces of their history, the discursive purpose of Carlota, and of the novel, is to recreate a totality through an imaginative synthesis of various parts’ (102). By synthesizing parts to create a new whole with new meanings, Carlota breathes life into Maximilian and Mexican history, continually reviving them in the present. Aware of the power of her discourse, Carlota asks, “¿Y sabes a lo que más le tienen miedo,
you, every time that I say your name’ (312). However, in order to bring her husband back to life, Carlota must find a means beyond simply combining the elements of
Maximilian’s body while speaking his name. The ways in which she combines, changes, and revives those relegated to the past reinforces the idea of the subjective temporality as perceived by the human conscious.
The distinction between how the past is perceived by the embodied conscious and traditional historiography can be observed in the episode in which the messenger is transformed into Benito Juárez. Carlota relays the encounter to her husband, stating “[m]e desnudé, Maximiliano, delante de Juárez, pero no para entregarme a él, sino para escribir, con mi piel y sobre mi piel y con la sangre de ellos y de México, nuestra historia” ‘I undressed myself, Maximilian, in front of Juárez, but not to give myself to him, but rather to write, with my skin and on my skin and with the blood of them and of Mexico, our history’ (608). This interaction between Carlota and the morphing
the foreground the very processes that we perform as we try to make sense of and engage the past.
Carlota continues to explain her encounter with the messenger as Benito Juárez by focusing on the blood of all the Mexicans lost in the battles fought during the French intervention stating that “con esa sangre me tatué todo el cuerpo, y es allí, en mi piel, donde todo quedó escrito y no en las hojas, en las miles de hojas que arranqué de mis cuadernos” ‘with that blood I tattooed all my body, and it is there, on my skin, where everything was written and not on the pages, the thousands of pages that I ripped out of my notebooks’ (608). Feeling a mixture of culpability and defiance for the responsibility of the blood shed during the imperial exercise, Carlota begins to understand the futility of writing to capture fully how the past operates within her present. For the former empress, the past has become overwhelming; she is incapable of any total comprehension. As Carlos Fuentes states, “[t]he fact is, the time of Mexico reaches us charged with all that we could become, but the charge precedes us and is so enormous that at moments we would like to become pure time, so as to defeat the historical time that denies, mocks, defies, and besieges us” (New Time 21). The primary means of documenting and exploring historical time is through the practices of historiography. However as Carlota explains, the pages, the documents, and the first-person accounts of a witness at the center of such a unique moment in Mexican history are not capable of describing the reality as experienced by the human conscious.
Confusing spatiotemporal aspects of the past, juxtaposing disparate personages and events of Mexico’s long history, Carlota declares:
tan Mexicana, ya te lo dije, Maximiliano, como todos ellos [. . .] Y soy la madre de todos ellos porque yo, Maximiliano, soy su historia y estoy loca. (664-65)
I am Mama Carlota, mother of Cuauhtémoc and La Malinche, of Manuel Hidalgo and Benito Juárez, of Sor Juana and Emiliano Zapata. Because I am as Mexican, like I told you before, Maximilian, as Mexican as all of them [. . .] I am the mother of all of them because I, Maximilian, am their history and I am crazy.
Carlota’s claim to be just as Mexican as these famous personages is in many ways
historically accurate. Apart from her documented desire to learn Spanish, travel the land, and get to know better her “subjects,” Carlota and Maximilian have indeed formed part of the national dialogue on Mexican history. Nonetheless, she was always an outsider; placed on the throne alongside her husband, to rule a land they had never seen prior to disembarking at the port of Veracruz to be crowned Emperor and Empress. Interestingly, the very processes at hand that placed the couple in the seat of power reflected the
constant interaction of the histories of an arrogant European colonization that manipulates preexistent social and religious belief systems.
The subject of Hernán Cortés’s military and political maneuvering to seize power from the dominant Mesoamerican civilizations during the Spanish Conquest is employed in various times in the novel. In one particular instance, Benito Juárez is contemplating the physical appearance of Maximiliano, incessantly asking his secretary of state about the lightness of the European’s skin and the length of his beard. Furthermore, the
indigenous Juárez points out the parallels of this particular power grab by Europeans with one that occurred in Mesoamerica over three hundred years before:
dios máximo, es un dios blanco, alto y rubio, que prometió volver un día. (151)
I was telling you that it is the limit that they want to impose on us a so-called Emperor, that has what many people here consider to be beautiful attributes, like the color of his skin, white, or of his eyes, blue, and you should not forget, Mr. Secretary, that we live in a country in whose mythology the beneficent god, who we could say is the highest god, is a white god, tall and blond, that promised to return one day.
The eternal return of the outside usurper that Juárez perceives is paradoxically rational and irrational. The times are different and as the president himself recognizes, “[s]i el Archiduque llega a poner un pie en México, muy pronto se darán cuenta que no es un dios ni nada que se le parezca” ‘if the Archduke puts one foot in Mexico, they will quickly realize that he is not a god or anything close to one’ (152). Nonetheless, Juárez’s understanding of history is one in which the possibilities for the present and future are built from experiences and memories, both individual and collective.
As Carlos Fuentes notes, “el pasado depende de nuestro recuerdo aquí y ahora, y el futuro de nuestro deseo, aquí y ahora. Memoria y deseo son imaginación presente” ‘the past depends on our memory here and now, and the future on our desire here and now. Memory and desire are the present imagination’ (Valiente 48). Imagination is one of the elements through which Juárez contemplates the future but also understands the present. What Juárez does in his explorations of the past is not dissimilar to Carlota’s reordering and juxtapositions that are made at the cost of logic. For Juárez, the
memory and that of historians. The first appears as essentially mythic, deformed, and anachronistic. But it constitutes the lived reality of the never-completed relation between present and past” (111). The personal history to which the reader is exposed in Carlota’s monologue is an extreme, but no less unreal, example of how the human conscious tries to make sense of the past in a present that at times becomes incomprehensible.
Obviously, this personal history cannot be seen as complete or scientific. What, then, is the role personal history plays in historiography and the ways in which we understand the past? This is where the authorial voice in Noticias del Imperio offers perspective on the function of imagination, documentation, historiography, and fictional literature in understanding the past and the present. Speaking of the idea of history as judge of Carlota and Maximilian and the Second Mexican Empire, the authorial voice comments not only on the particulars of the novel the reader holds in her hands, but also on the general processes of writing and understanding history:
Pero la última página sobre el Imperio y los Emperadores de México, la que idealmente contendría ese <<Juicio de la Historia>>—con
mayúsculas—del que hablaba Benito Juárez, jamás sería escrita y no sólo porque la locura de la historia no acabó con Carlota: también porque a falta de una verdadera, imposible, y en última instancia indeseable
<<Historia Universal>>, existen muchas historias no sólo particulares sino cambiantes, según las perspectivas de tiempo y espacio desde las que son <<escritas>>. (638)
Essentially, the idea that the authorial voice is conveying is similar to that of Ranajit Guha, who contests the Hegelian tradition of understanding history as a singular,
unfolding World-history. Guha states that the “prose of the world,” which expresses the “historicality” of the past, the meaning and effects of past events as perceived by the individual, has been placed in an inferior position to the “prose of history,” the narrative of the nation state (24-25). Recognizing the inadequacies of traditional historiography to capture what he terms as the “historicality” of everyday experience, Ranajit Guha states that it is “[n]o wonder that our critique has to look elsewhere, over the fence so to say, to neighboring fields of knowledge for inspiration, and finds it in literature, which differs significantly from historiography in dealing with historicality” (5). It appears that the authorial voice is making a similar argument, not by claiming that traditional
historiography is pure invention—as some extreme postmodernists would argue—but rather that is as means of understanding the past it is always provisional, incomplete, and inescapably personal.
Returning to the theme of the individual’s perception of the past and the ways in which it operates in the present, the authorial voice adds:
En lo que respecta a la actuación individual, a la responsabilidad política y ética de Maximiliano y Carlota, la imposibilidad de una historia universal, que a su vez impide la existencia de un juicio también universal, no ha evitado, desde luego—porque de eso están hechas las historias
particulares—, la proliferación de juicios personales. Pero, como también sucede, esos juicios no sólo han sido emitidos por historiadores, sino también por aquellos novelistas y dramaturgos que han cedido a la fascinación de la historia. (641)
not just emitted by historians but also by the novelists and playwrights that have ceded to the fascination of history.
The exploration of personal and heteroglossic histories is the expressed primary goal of the authorial voice in narrating the story of the Second Mexican Empire and the years that Carlota spends reflecting upon and interacting with the past. However, it seems that in the process the authorial voice has encountered as many questions as answers
regarding the role of the artist in exploring the past. “¿Pero qué sucede cuando un autor no puede escapar a la historia? ¿Cuándo no puede olvidar, a voluntad, lo aprendido? ‘But what happens when an author cannot escape history? When he cannot forget, willfully, what he has learned’ (641)? It is the authorial voice’s answer to this question that offers a means to better understand Noticias del Imperio and its unique presentation of history. Citing past attempts at understanding history and the ways in which the past, present, and future interact, the authorial voice avers that, “[q]uizás la solución sea no plantearse una alternativa, como Borges, y no eludir la historia, como Usigli, sino tratar de conciliar todo lo verdadero que pueda tener la historia con lo exacto que pueda tener la invención” ‘Perhaps the solution lies in not proposing an alternative, like Borges, nor in eluding history, like Usigli, but rather trying to reconcile all that is truthful that history can offer with all that the exactness that invention can offer’ (641).4 This hybrid narration would indeed offer the reader a more complete, comprehensive way of understanding the past and present.
4Rodolfo Usigli’s formula in writing Corona de sombra is explained in an “Advertencia,” a forward to his
In a similar way, Carlos Fuentes highlights the author’s role in the writing of the present, past, and future and the space of contestation that is created with this hybrid narrative stating:
Imaginar el pasado. Recordar el futuro. Un escritor conjuga los tiempos y las tensiones de la vida humana con medios verbales. Recordarlo y
escribirlo todo: desde la época colonial, la América Española ha vivido la doble realidad de leyes humanas, progresistas y democráticas (las Leyes de Indias, las constituciones de las repúblicas independientes) en
contradicción con una realidad inhumana, retrógrada y autoritaria. (Valiente 18-19)
Imagining the past. Remembering the future. A writer conjugates the tenses and tensions of human life through verbal modes. Remembering and writing it all down: since the colonial period, Spanish America has lived the double reality of progressive and democratic human laws (the Laws of the Indies, the constitutions of the independent republics) in contradiction with an inhumane, retrograde, and authoritarian reality. As Fuentes reminds us, literature has traditionally had the freedom to invent and imagine. Nonetheless, in contradicting the truth claims of traditional historiography, works like Noticias del imperio remind us of the exclusionary discourses that have conventionally been accepted as unquestionably comprehensive. Just as the “prose of history” often removes individual humanity from the past, the humanity of the present is expressed in myriad ways. One such way of understanding the present is to understand how it interacts with the past.
This is the process to which the reader bears witness through Carlota’s monologue in Noticias del Imperio. The empress’s words, the blending of an invented past and a schizophrenic present, are indeed those of a madwoman. Nonetheless, in Carlota’s narrative there is an example, albeit in exaggerated form, of a new hybrid approach to understanding how temporality as personally experienced makes subordinate the
Signs from the Present: La Malinche in Contemporary Mexico
La fuerza del teatro, pero también su contradicción profunda, es que no puede sobrevivir si no es negando la memoria como memoria cualquiera de sus formas. En él, la memoria ya no es el signo del pasado. Se ha convertido en presente. (Féral 25)
The power of theatre, but also its profound contradiction, is that it cannot survive if it is not negating memory as memory in one of its many forms. In theatre, memory is not the sign of the past. It has been made present.
One can argue that there is not a more polemical figure in Mexican historiography than that of La Malinche. Almost five hundred years after her involvement in the
Spanish conquest of Mexico, doña Marina, as she was known to the Spanish, or Malintzín as she was called in Nahuatl, has paradoxically come to represent both the traitor of the indigenous peoples and the mythological mother of Mexico. As Sandra Messinger Cypess notes in her work La Malinche in Mexican Literature: From History to Myth, the historical woman, whose own voice has never been registered, has been
transformed into a sign within her culture’s myth system (6). As a constantly evolving sign, she can be found in a wide range of artistic texts throughout Mexican history.